The Importance of Last Words is unmistakable. They are fascinating to people. They hold the wisdom and mystery of a perspective that no living person has. Famous last words hold even more mystery, a holdover from their originator’s lofty position in life.
In her 2014 memoir, Ginger Alden revealed then-fiance Elvis Presley’s final words before his death in 1977. During a night of sleeplessness, Presley told Alden, “I’m going to the bathroom to read.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Poignant, funny, sad, weird or mean—last words can make quite the impact as we shuffle off the stage of life.
Here are 64 notable examples.
- Joseph Wright was a linguist who edited the English Dialect Dictionary. His last word? “Dictionary.”
- Italian artist Raphael’s last word was simply: “Happy.”
- Composer Gustav Mahler died in bed, conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was, “Mozart!”
- Blues singer Bessie Smith died saying, “I’m going, but I’m going in the name of the Lord.”
- Composer Jean-Philippe Rameau objected to a song sung at his bedside. He said, “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.”
- Frank Sinatra died after saying, “I’m losing it.”
- George Orwell’s last written words were, “At fifty, everyone has the face he deserves.” He died at age 46.
- William Henry Seward, architect of the Alaska Purchase, was asked if he had any final words. He replied, “Nothing, only ‘love one another.’”
- Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre turned to his partner Simone de Beauvoir and said, “I love you very much, my dear Beaver.”
- Birth control advocate Margaret Sanger’s last words were, “A party! Let’s have a party.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke said, “I don’t want the doctor’s death. I want to have my own freedom.”
- Nostradamus predicted, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” He was right.
- Author Vladimir Nabokov was also an entomologist, particularly interested in butterflies. His last words: “A certain butterfly is already on the wing.”
- Author Herman Melville died saying, “God bless Captain Vere!” referencing his then-unpublished novel Billy Budd, found on his desk after he died.
- Marie Antoinette stepped on her executioner’s foot on her way to the guillotine. Her last words: “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur.”
- Richard B. Mellon was a multimillionaire. He was the President of Alcoa, and he and his brother Andrew had a little game of Tag going. The weird thing was, this game of Tag lasted for like seven decades. When Richard was on his deathbed, he called his brother over and whispered, “Last tag.” Poor Andrew remained “It” for four years, until he died.
- When Harriet Tubman was dying in 1913, she gathered her family around and they sang together. Her last words were, “Swing low, sweet chariot.”
- When Sir Isaac Newton died, he was humble. He said, “I don’t know what I may seem to the world. But as to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
- Leonardo da Vinci was also overly modest, saying, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” I guess the Mona Lisa isn’t good enough?
- Louise-Marie-Thérèse de Saint Maurice, Comtesse de Vercellis let one rip while she was dying. She said, “Good. A woman who can fart is not dead.”
- Drummer Buddy Rich died after surgery in 1987. As he was being prepped for surgery, a nurse asked him, “Is there anything you can’t take?” Rich replied, “Yeah, country music.”
- Johnny Ace, an R&B singer, died in 1954 while playing with a pistol during a break in his concert set. His last words were, “I’ll show you that it won’t shoot.”
- Richard Feynman, a physicist, author, musician, professor, and traveler, died in Los Angeles in 1988. His last words? “This dying is boring.”
- As Benjamin Franklin lay dying at the age of 84, his daughter told him to change position in bed so he could breathe more easily. Franklin’s last words were, “A dying man can do nothing easy.”
- Albert Abraham Michelson dedicated his life to measuring the speed of light and was the first American to win a Nobel Prize for physics. Even as he was dying at age 78, he was measuring light. He wrote in his log: “The following is a report on the measurement of the velocity of light made at the Irvine Ranch, near Santa Ana, California, during the period of September 1929 to—.”
- Thomas B. Moran was a pickpocket, known by the nickname “Butterfingers.” He reportedly stole as many as 50,000 wallets in his career. He died in Miami in 1971, and his last words were, “I’ve never forgiven that smart-alecky reporter who named me Butterfingers. To me, it’s not funny.”
- Murderer James W. Rodgers was put in front of a firing squad in Utah and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”
- Charles “Lucky” Luciano was a mob leader who helped the U.S. work with the Sicilian Mafia during World War II in exchange for a reduced prison sentence. His last words were, “Tell Georgie I want to get in the movies one way or another.” And it worked! His life story is told in the movies Lucky Luciano, The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, and many more. He also appears as a character in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
- John Arthur Spenkelink was executed in Florida in 1979. He spent his final days writing these last words on various pieces of mail: “Capital punishment means those without the capital get the punishment.”
- Convicted murderer Thomas J. Grasso used his last words to complain about his last meal. He said, “I did not get my Spaghetti-O’s; I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.”
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, died at age 71 in his garden. He turned to his wife and said, “You are wonderful,” then clutched his chest and died.
- Writer T.S. Eliot was only able to whisper one word as he died: “Valerie,” the name of his wife.